The Suffolk Planning Commission by a single vote elected attorney Jennifer Casey as its new chairwoman after her rival, developer Michael Kelly, sought a secret paper ballot for the unpaid post.
Kelly succeeded by an 8-7 vote in getting a paper ballot. But county attorneys after a nearly 20-minute delay determined the ballots could not be destroyed, and the votes of each commission member became public after the vote.
Kelly later said he sought a secret ballot because “I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable.” He said Casey has “served well and is a good person.”
Casey, who practices personal injury law primarily in Manhattan, said that while planning is not her profession, “it is a real passion of mine.”
Casey won eight of 13 votes of town and village representatives. There also are two at-large members. She said she hoped she could reunite the commission, which experienced division last year after rejecting a Tuckahoe shopping center on County Road 39. The issue led to the first contested chairman election in commission history.
“I hope we can put his behind us and move forward together,” Casey said.
The planning commission provides rulings on local projects of countywide significance. If the commission does not approve the project, it can require the local municipalities to approve rezonings with a majority plus one vote. Otherwise, the project cannot go forward.
Barbara Roberts, Southampton commission representative, said Casey’s election will protect the planning board’s independence, which has faced increased lobbying from the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone for more development.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Bellone took no position on the commission election and “looks forward to working” with Casey. But, he added, “Good projects have to move forward to improve the economy.”
New planning commission member Errol Kitt, whose firm GEI Consultants does work for the county, voted for Kelly’s election, while the other new member, Nicholas Morehead, chief operating officer of Shelter Island’s South ferry, voted for Casey.
Because of questions from county lawmakers, Bellone aides Tuesday said they are seeking a ruling from the county ethics board on whether Kitt is eligible to serve given the firm’s county work and his $200,000 worth of shares in GEI.
In response to a Newsday inquiry, Comptroller John Kennedy disclosed Wednesday that GEI has a $1.35 million contract, dating to 2008, for permit work for county dredging that originated with a company that GEI later acquired.
Earlier, county planning director Sarah Lansdale had only identified about $115,000 worth of county work done by GEI.